Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Passive recovery of vegetation after herbivore eradication on Santa Cruz Island, California.

Abstract

Understanding how insular ecosystems recover or are restructured after the eradication of an invasive species is crucial in evaluating conservation success and prioritizing island conservation efforts. Globally, herbivores have been removed from 762 islands, most with limited active restoration actions following eradication. Few studies have documented the effects of invasive herbivore removal after multiple decades of passive recovery. Here we evaluate recovery of vegetation on Santa Cruz Island, California, after the removal of feral sheep (Ovis aries) in 1984. We repeat a study conducted in 1980, and examine vegetation changes 28 years after the eradication. Before eradication, grazed areas were characterized by reduced plant cover, high exposure of bare ground, and erosion. After 28 years of passive recovery, transect data showed a 23% increase in woody overstory, whereas analysis of photographs from landscapes photographed pre- and post-eradication showed a 26% increase in woody vegetation. Whole island vegetation maps similarly showed a transition from grass/bare ground (74.3% of cover) to woody plants (77.2% of cover), indicating the transition away from predominantly exotic annual grassland toward a community similar to the overstory of coastal scrubland but with an understory dominated by non-native annual grasses. We estimate that replacement of grasses/bare ground by native woody vegetation has led to 70 and 17% increases in the stored carbon and nitrogen pools on the island, respectively. Our results demonstrate that these island ecosystems can experience significant recovery of native floral communities without intensive post-eradication restoration, and results of recovery may take decades to be realized.